SPEAKS TO MALTA STANDARDISATION AUTHORITY CHAIRMAN ENGINEER FRANCIS
FARRUGIA ABOUT THE MSAS UPCOMING PLANS, CONFORMING WITH
EU REGULATIONS, PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY OF INDIGENOUS MALTESE GOODS,
AND ON THE IMPORTANT DISTINCTION BETWEEN A STANDARD AND A REGULATION
What is the history behind the Malta Standardisation Authority?
The Malta Standardisation Authority came into being back in 1996 when
the Malta Standardisation Authority Act was passed in Parliament. Before
that there was the Malta Board of Standards which had operated since
the late 60s.
In the past, the Board of Standards was responsible for the enforcement
of regulations, but with the new Act our new role is more one of being
an advisor to industry. There are other sections within the government
that are responsible for carrying out enforcement.
The first problem we came across was in the definition of the word standard.
Many people confuse the words standard and regulation
and it took us some time to explain this difference.
In the past, when we used to talk about standards, it was always within
the context of something mandatory. There was a standard and it had
to be followed. However, the definition of standards has changed and
today standards are considered as guidelines, a code of practice but
which are there for use on a voluntary basis.
For example, we will soon be preparing standards for hygiene for various
sectors such as shops and catering establishments. These are to be guidelines
so that those in the industry have guidelines to follow but it does
not mean that they have to follow them to the letter. As long as they
meet these minimum standards, they can follow American standards, which
might even be more rigid.
When standards are prepared by the MSA, all those involved in the relevant
sector would form part of a technical committee. All standards passed
in this respect have to be by consensus in that everyone has to agree
to it, otherwise it would not be published as a standard.
On the other hand, a regulation is something that is instituted by the
government, which may appoint a person or group to write a new legislation
which would then be passed through Parliament. We would only be required
to publish its title in the Government Gazette. But there could be instances
in which a standard could also partly be a regulation. For example,
if a particular act makes reference to a standard.
So standards, although being voluntary, can become part of legislation
if they form part of a legal notice.
There are also other types of standards apart from these codes of practice.
The MSA is responsible to implement at least a minimum of physical standards
of measuring parameters. For example, today we have nothing to compare
our weighing equipment with. Research recently carried out in the United
States found that a kilogram, although they still use the pound, varied
from 720 grams to over one kilogram in different shops. There has to
be a national standard for measurements, which is known as metrology.
We have been allocated EUR0.5 million from EU funds to build a comprehensive
measurement system for Malta.
We will also be subcontracting people to check, for example, when you
purchase a litre of petrol if you are really getting an entire litre
of petrol, in order to ensure that the consumer is getting what they
are paying for. In some countries, they even carry our similar exercises
on taxi meters.
Anything involving measurements and payments is within legal metrology.
There was a law, going back to 1910, which was one of the first laws
on legal metrology but it has never been enforced. Now, most likely
during the third quarter of this year, there will be a new law called
the Metrology Act before Parliament through which we will be publishing
metrology standards for Malta.
We are also responsible for the publication of legal notices to various
ministries and for adopting all the new approach standards within the
EU context. These are very important, as there are safety implications
- those on toys for children, recreational crafts, medical implants
such as pacemakers and the Authority is responsible to implement them
as part of our national legislation.
Within the MSA, we have two directorates - one responsible for consumer
and industrial goods and the other on foodstuffs chemicals and cosmetics
which are regulated within the EU.
Finally, we have the accreditation directorate. This has not yet been
finalised but is also planned for the third or fourth quarter of this
year. There are a number of laboratories operating in Malta but, unfortunately,
the certificates that they issue are not recognised as these laboratories
are not accredited.
In order to operate a laboratory so that test reports issued by them
have some recognition, they have to be accredited by another body that
goes to ascertain whether all the necessary requirements for laboratories
are met with. If the requirement are upheld, they will be issued an
accreditation certificate, then test reports issued by that laboratory
would be recognised even abroad.
The tests carried out would ensure that those working in the labs are
competent, that the testing is done in a controlled environment, that
all equipment is calibrated etc
For the time being, no one is
checking on these requirements. However, we already have the accreditation
personnel in place and in the first quarter of 2002, in six months
time, we will be setting up the accreditation service in Malta.
The preparation of Maltese standards in line with European and international
standards has been underway for some time now. In fact, a fact that
many are not aware of is that we have adopted over 9,000 such standards
as Maltese national standards - most of these are European standards
and other international standards.
We recently made a breakthrough by preparing the first national standard
for keyboards. The question was how the Maltese keyboard would be laid
out, as the Maltese language has more letters than those contained on
a standard keyboard. We had two options, either to adopt a single key
in which some of the functions, such as the + or the =, would be given
a Maltese character or whether to use two keys combined to produce a
Maltese character, such as alt c would become a Maltese character.
We carried out an exercise during which we called in at least 40 people
who regularly use Maltese characters and we presented them with the
two options and the single key option was the most popular.
Accordingly, we will now be introducing the single option as the Maltese
standard keyboard. However, when you publish a standard, you need to
receive feedback from all those involved. We have commissioned MITTS
to write the standard, we gave copies to all those involved and we now
have three months in which to receive the feed back.
Once we receive the feedback and look into all the comments, we will
establish it as a Maltese standard, which will be the first in the field.
What affiliations does the MSDA have with similar organisations abroad?
The Authority is a full member of the International Standards Organisation
(ISO) and it is an affiliate of CEN the European body for standards,
of which we have applied for full membership. It is not easy, as we
had to go through a full three day assessment of the Authority, which
was carried out last May.
We were successful and we will now be the second EU candidate country
to obtain full membership status of CEN. There are other European bodies
that have failed, even on the second attempt, but we managed on our
first attempt to meet the requirements of CEN.
We have also been nominated, with the elections coming up in September
in Sydney, for the ISO general secretariat, of which we were nominated
by other European countries. The position would be a very prestigious
one for Malta.
Does Malta still have a long way to go in meeting EU standards and regulations?
I had earlier mentioned the New Approach Directive. All items falling
under the New Approach must have the EU mark, which says that the product
is safe to be sold in a country. Now if a product produced in Malta
has the EU mark, it cannot be refused sale in any EU country. So we
are also working along those lines and I can say that most of the products
in Malta that fall under one of these directives meet the requirements.
In fact, sometimes we would have issued certificates of free sales for
products produced in Malta for third countries, such as those in southeast
Asia and we quote that these products meet with EU standards.
We also provide all the advice that local companies exporting to the
EU need in order for them to have their products easily sold on the
How is the MSA governed?
The Authority is governed by a council, of which there are 14 members.
Half of them are ex-ufficio, former directors of government departments,
while we also have members from industry, such as representatives from
the FOI, GRTU, the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Engineers, the
Chamber of Pharmacists all those who are stakeholders in issues
of standardisation and related issues.
We meet regularly, every four to six weeks, to discuss general policy
and directorates that ensure that policies are being upheld.
The Authority does not fall under any government authority and the decisions
taken by the council are final. In some cases, we could be given certain
indications by a ministry, but it is the council that decides in the
The MSA is expanding, a year ago we were five staff and now we are 19,
while there was only directorate last year and now there are five. As
I said, the areas on which we will be concentrating are those of metrology
and accreditation. We need accreditation because today those that want
to test their products in order for them to be approved for sale in
Europe, the products must sent to Europe - to an accredited laboratory.
As such, we have to start providing accreditation services as soon as
What special provisions are in the pipeline for Maltese goods?
One of the areas that we will be working on next year will be that of
introducing standards on indigenous products such as honey, gbejna,
Maltese sausage everything that can be identified as a Maltese
We have also been approached by the Crafts Council to create some mark
of conformity for Maltese products, such as lace. Malta imports a good
deal of imitation, machined lace from Taiwan, for example, and say that
it is Maltese. We are holding discussions with the Crafts Council to
issue a conformity mark.
However, first we have to produce a standard on how Maltese lace should
be made. Anyone who produces lace could ask us to inspect whether that
company and its products are based on the standard. If we find that
it complies with the standard, then it can carry the conformity mark
that would identify it as a genuine Maltese-made product.
If there are 40 manufacturers and only some of them choose to go for
the conformity mark, the others would be able to carry on doing as they
have been- - but without the mark of conformity.
But if a conformity mark is granted, then from time to time we would
still have to carry out checks to ensure that the standard has been
maintained. Of course, there will be legal implications for those applying
a conformity mark if it has not been granted by the MSA.
We have identified quite a number of areas, especially in terms of indigenous
products in the area of foods, in which we could issue this conformity
mark as being authentically Maltese.
A product, of course, could be produced in Malta, but not have the conformity
mark if it is not manufactured in the appropriate way. There has to
be a standard. For example, for gbejna maltija we must identify what
type of milk was used in its production. All the tests that need to
be done to ensure their integrity must be specified in the standards
and if the standards were abided by, then they would be issued with
the conformity label.
A committee will be formed made up of those concerned such as
manufacturers, resellers and consumers where a consensus will
be reached and whereby the mark will be issued.
We have also been allocated funds by the EU to start the project.